The banquet dishes have been cleared away and during the speech that follows, the honorees of the Life-Time Achievement award are being described.
The Master of Ceremonies brings his introduction to its crescendo. “Their tireless work has changed our world!” As everyone leaps to their feet for the standing ovation, the honorees look at each other and smile as if they are sharing a private joke because they (better than anyone else in the room) know that world-changers are the opposite of people who work tirelessly; they are people who keep working even when they are very tired.
Ironically, we learn this secret at another banquet… a wedding banquet in northern Israel. The people there who were “working tired” were not world-changers (although the work they were doing was about to change the world). They were the servants at the banquet, and they had been given a set of annoying, tiring, and useless instructions by one of the wedding guests—a carpenter named Jesus.
Let’s go back to the beginning. The household of their master was faced with a social crisis that was about to bring shame down on his head causing him to lose face before his entire community. Somehow someone had calculated incorrectly (and oh, there would be an accounting afterward … the servants knew that, and shuddered!) and the amount of wine that had been ordered for the banquet was completely inadequate. In fact, it was completely gone!
I suppose the crisis came to light when one of the family members ordered the servants to bring more wine, and the servant returned and whispered the horrifying news behind his hand, “There’s no wine left!”
In the sudden flurry of activity that took place behind the scenes, frantic questions were no doubt asked, a search made, and then the flash of anger as it became clear that the day was about to bring social ruin on the family.
Somehow Mary (the mother of Jesus) got involved. It is possible that she was related to the bride since Cana was just a few miles down the road from her home town of Nazareth. She may even have been the banquet coordinator since she took the situation in hand and gave a command to the servants which they all obeyed.
The command that she gave the servants was actually to transfer her “banquet authority” to Jesus! “Do whatever He says!” she told them (*see footnote).
I suppose the servants must have exchanged glances. This man was not their master. He was just a guest at the wedding… a carpenter from the next town. (It helps to remember that no human on earth had yet seen Jesus do a single miracle.)
The crisis was upon them, the servants were suddenly supposed to take orders from a stranger, and I suppose they thought that he would direct them to fan out into the village and try to find any available wine. Instead, Jesus commanded something that made no sense. “Fill those giant water jars to the brim with water.”
Was Jesus even paying attention? Every single servant must have thought, “We don’t need water. We need wine!”
In all honesty, there are times when obeying Jesus doesn’t look like it is going to change the world. For some of you who are reading this today, you have been doing your best to obey Jesus for a long time, but the world doesn’t seem to be changing at all; instead, you’re just getting older.
I am not sure how many servants were standing there, but I hope for their sakes that there were a lot of them. Why? Because the water jars that Jesus pointed to were huge! Each of the six purification jars held between 20 and 30 gallons! That is 120 to 180 total gallons of water! At 8.36 pounds per gallon, the weight of the water alone would be 1,000 to 1,500 pounds, without including the weight of the massive stone jars themselves! I can guarantee you that the servants didn’t fill those jars by carrying them to the water source!
Have you ever stopped to ask yourself where they got the water? They got the water where everyone in town got their water. They would walk down to the well carrying a heavy clay jar, draw water from the well, fill the jar, set it carefully on their shoulders, and walk back uphill to the house (trying not to slosh too much water out on the way). One 5-gallon “carry jar” filled with water would likely weigh 40 to 50 pounds altogether.
Steve, what is your point?
Simple: Jesus commanded an uncertain number of servants to make about 30 trips back and forth from the town well to the banquet site, carrying a 50-pound load each time, to fill six huge jars with WATER – when what they desperately needed was WINE!
We can’t look at this account through stained glass. Tired and sweating servants made trip after trip after trip, fulfilling a command that made no sense and had no way to solve the problem that they were all facing.
Brothers and sisters, your ministries can’t be viewed through stained-glass windows either. You work hard, day after day, doing what Jesus told you to do. And at the end of almost every day, you look at the time you spent and you wonder, “Why on earth did the Lord want me to spend THIS day, THAT way?” You have asked God again and again to make your work into something that impacts your world for Jesus’ sake, but the way of ministry is this: Most days don’t seem as if spiritual impact happened at all.
You can be tempted at those times to get discouraged, to get angry, or even to despair. You feel as if the Lord has given you an endless back-breaking task that holds no promise to change your world whatsoever.
When the servants had finished their exhausting task and the six water jars were filled to the brim, they looked to Jesus (who was apparently still there, overseeing their work). Can you see the scene? Weary servants. The mysterious wedding guest. Six huge water jars, now filled to the very top with water, but not a drop more wine than they had before they began. Their problem was not solved at all.
You could read their thoughts in their expressions: “OK, we have filled up the water. But what do we do about the wine?”
And Jesus says, “Now draw some out, and take it to the master of the banquet.”
I have no idea whether the water was transformed before it left the six jars, while it was being carried through the crowds to the master of the banquet, or as it was being poured into his glass.
But I know this: Useless labor was transformed in an instant into sparkling success at a word from the Master.
There were really two masters at the banquet, and one of them was only the master of the banquet. The other was the Master of matter… the Lord of liquids… the King of chemical reactions. He could just as easily have turned wine into water, or water into gasoline. He is nature’s Lord.
Dear friends, if this is a season of ministry that feels like wearying work with no visible effect on the needy world, look into the eyes of Jesus. The miracle doesn’t happen before you fully obey. You may be carrying the water for your congregation, for your family, or for your community. But Jesus will do His part … the part that you could never do.
World-changers, don’t worry if you are not working tirelessly. Keep working even when you are tired, because you know by faith that your work is part of the Lord’s miraculous provision of need for the desperate.
How do you KNOW it? Because it is the Holy Spirit who says so in God’s Word. “Always give yourself fully to the work of the Lord, because you KNOW that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”
*By the way, this verse is a wonderful way to witness to our Roman Catholic friends. When they bring up that we do not venerate Mary like they do, instead of getting into an argument that distracts them from the gospel, you can tell them that actually there is a sense in which we Protestants obey Mary every single day. When they ask what you mean, you can answer, “In John 2:5, Mary told the servants, ‘Do whatever Jesus tells you,’ and we try every single day to follow her advice.”